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In mid-August I began what might be termed the final leg of my summer CCRP travel schedule. Throughout the course of the spring and summer, I have traveled all around the commonwealth. During the fall and winter, my fellow traveler Tracy Harter and I usually have a few other random courthouses to hit and are always on standby for impromptu trips. However, we hit the road again in the spring to examine items as potential candidates for CCRP conservation grants and our travel schedule throughout the summer is dictated by where we need to be in order to accomplish this before the upcoming (2024FY) grant cycle.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office

The first stops on my week-long visits are always hampered by travel, and this particular Monday was no exception. Since the Montgomery County Courthouse in Christiansburg is actually farther than Salem, where my hotel was located, I ended up doubling-back after the visit to the clerk’s office. However, Christiansburg was the closest (time-wise) to Richmond of the four courthouses on this journey.

With my limited time, the office of Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Tiffany Couth was a good Monday stop, as I was already aware from my previous visits that the records room had a number of good candidates for conservation. When this is not the case, time has to be taken to examine items to identify those in need of conservation. Unfortunately for the Montgomery County circuit court clerk’s office, they are burdened with both cellulose acetate laminated (22 volumes at last count) and tape-stripped volumes. In addition, there are a number of land tax books that are good candidates, which is not uncommon, as they are frequently some of the most used and abused records in almost every circuit court clerk’s office. In the end, I wound up writing condition reports for 16 items: eight cellulose acetate laminated, five tape-stripped, and three that had general conservation issues (brittle, tearing, water damaged, etc.).

356-page Montgomery County Order Book 1

This volume was cellulose acetate laminated in 1958 and has a number of conservation issues working against it. First of all, a number of losses present prior to lamination will make the removal of the lamination more challenging. In addition, there are tape repairs and tape residue that were not removed prior to lamination and today the pages are chipping and breaking, potentially causing more losses.

Giles County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office

I have an unusual relationship with the Giles County circuit court clerk’s office, located in the historic 1836 Giles County Courthouse in Pearisburg. I first visited in the summer of 2016, not long after I had been hired, but for various reasons did not return until 2021. However, that first trip had made an impression on me. At the tail end of that visit, just before I was about to leave, the then-clerk took me to an archival storage area in the attic that was loaded with the locality’s oldest and most historical records. It was an archival jackpot which I was not able to explore until my return visit five years later.

The plastic tab posthole system on various Giles County court record books.

The image to the upper right shows the plastic tab in the center fold of the signature, the image to the upper left is of the post-bound signatures intact, and the image at the bottom depicts how the plastic tabs break from the posts.

As with Montgomery County, the Giles County circuit court clerk’s records room also has its own list of items known to be in need of conservation, which in this instance are mostly tape-stripped deed books. There are also a number of items that were, at some point, post-bound using a unique plastic tab posthole system. This plastic posthole tab scheme is unusual, we do not come across it very often. It is not clear why the bound volumes were dis-bound and then converted to this type of binding. The pages were not cut out one by one from the binding but instead the original binding stitches were removed, leaving the signatures (small groups of paper sheets folded in half that are bound together to create a book) intact. The signatures were then slit along the folded side and plastic tab postholes were inserted. The signatures, with the plastic postholes, were then post-bound.

Tape-stripped volumes, where the pages have been completely cut from the binding and attached to a sheet-length piece of posthole-formatted record paper facilitates the pages’ removal for photocopying, as one would do with a three-ring binder. However, with this plastic posthole system, the signatures are preserved. So although the post-bound signatures can be removed for photocopying, they are still bound on one side making it difficult for them to be laid flat in a copier or scanner. Perhaps not as difficult as if they were in the original binding, but not much was gained by removing them from their original format.

Additionally, these small, plastic tab postholes are prone to breaking off, and when that happens, the signatures can become separated from the volume. Instead of losing just one page, you have lost a whole section. The upside, however, is that with the signatures still intact, the volumes can be restored to a sewn binding.

In all, I wrote condition reports for 18 items, four of which had the plastic tab postholes and the remaining 14 all tape-stripped.

Floyd County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office

The third excursion of my stay working out of Salem took me to the office of Floyd County Circuit Court Clerk Rhonda Vaughn. On my last visit, I spent the day in an offsite storage facility examining and writing up condition reports for land tax books. However, on this visit the clerk preferred that I concentrate on the records in the courthouse which for the most part meant loose marriage records. We had begun chipping away at the earliest marriage records (circa 1831) in November 2018, and on this visit we continued, beginning with 1842. These records were flat-filed and well-organized with every effort made to keep the associated documents together (bonds, consents, certificates, ministers’ returns, etc.), which can be difficult after unfolding bundles.

Floyd County circuit court clerk, Rhonda Vaughn (left), with deputy clerks, Jennifer Marshall and Lynda Reed.

Floyd County Courthouse in Floyd, Virginia.

Until recently, the CCRP grants review committee had shied away from loose records as candidates for item conservation grants. The issues with loose records include the question of what constitutes an “item.” Each locality is currently permitted to apply for up to six items for a CCRP conservation grant. Generally speaking, that meant six volumes or record books. Once loose records were permitted, a system needed to be created to fix a cutoff  for how many loose documents might approximately equal one volume. Since the bulk of the items submitted for conservation are deed books and deed books are usually between 400 and 600 pages, it was determined that a “batch” of loose records should slide in at around 250 documents (or 500 pages when you count both sides). It gets trickier, however, because it would be best to not break up years, so generally speaking, the number of documents hovers around 250+, with documents for each year added until there are over 250. On this visit, condition reports were written up for seven items, including five batches of marriage records, 1842-1846 (276), 1847-1849 (319), 1850-1852 (297),  1853-1855 (359), and 1856-1858 (257).

A small section of the Hanging Rock Battlefield Trail

Salem, Virginia, July 13, 2021

In previous installments of Records Room Road Trip, my fellow traveler and runner Tracy Harter and I have made references to our carving out running routes on our overnight trips. On each visit in each of the hubs where we have our accommodations, we have, through trial and error, established our now-predetermined running routes. In Abingdon, there is the beautiful historic main street downtown area, the Creeper Trail, and the Abingdon Urban Pathway; in Danville, there is the Riverwalk Trail along the Dan River; and in Salem, I run on the Hanging Rock Battlefield Trail. While not as long (or potentially long) as the other two running routes, there are genuine challenges in getting to the trail and back, which include running on a private driveway (from an industrial park to a street) and on a super steep road in a nearby neighborhood. By now, we know our way around and in some instances might even be familiar faces to the regulars who also exercise on these trails.

Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office

After my morning run on my final day of this week’s CCRP visits, I traveled to the office of Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk Teresa Brown in Rocky Mount. As with Montgomery County, Franklin County is burdened with both cellulose acetate laminated volumes (18 at last count) and tape-stripped volumes, so once inside there was little guesswork involved.

On my arrival, the clerk gave me a quick tour and review of the area. Notes from my previous visits reminded me to ask about volumes that were stored in a secure storage area and the evidence room. The evidence room turned up some of the older deed books, which had been removed from the records room in favor of photocopied reproductions. While there were random loose pages, they were deemed not to be a priority, as they were out of circulation and not in horrible shape. The secure storage area had one well-worn minute book for which I wrote up a condition report. From there, I went immediately into the genealogy room, which is where the bulk of the oldest, non-land books are located, and also happens to be where the bulk of the cellulose acetate laminated volumes are. The tape-stripped volumes are all in the deed books with the land records. In all, I wound up writing up condition reports for 18 items: eight tape-stripped, nine cellulose acetate laminated, and the one well-worn minute book.

A recent Halloween photograph of the staff of the Franklin County circuit court clerk’s office.

I noted in my after action report that the Franklin County circuit court clerk’s office might have the most fun and entertaining staff of all of the clerks’ offices that I visit. In fact, the clerk told me that people are always inquiring about working there because the staff all appear to enjoy themselves so much. The fun for me was that they appeared to become used to my hanging around, and they carried on as though I weren’t there. That said, they always provided polite, efficient, and very professional customer service.

This Salem visit would be the last of my overnight, extended stays for the year, however I would still have a few day trips in the cards.

Road Trip Roundup

Miles traveled: about 715 miles

Courthouses visited:
Montgomery County (Christiansburg, est. 1776)
Giles County (Pearisburg, est. 1806)
Floyd County (Floyd, est. 1831)
Franklin County (Rocky Mount, est. 1785)

Oldest record viewed: Montgomery County, Order Book 1, 1773-1788

Soundtrack/Songs: Anything by Emerson, Lake & Palmer and anything by Yes.

Best food: Mac and Bob’s, El Jefe, Cabo Fish Taco (food truck), Stacey’s Grill 2 Go (food truck)

Eddie Woodward

Sr. Local Records Consulting Archivist

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